Entertainment » Theatre

On The Town. Boston Pops.

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Friday Jun 1, 2018
On The Town. Boston Pops.

It seemed like a crazy idea to attempt to stage - even in a stripped down format - a Broadway musical on the stage of Boston's Symphony Hall at a Pops concert. Doesn't the orchestra take up most of the stage? How can movement, including dance sequences, compete for space with a sprawling symphony orchestra?

The answer is, quite beautifully, as evidenced by the Boston Pops presentation of "On The Town" last night as part of the orchestra's celebration of Leonard Bernstein's centenary. The 1944 show, which introduced Bernstein as well as his collaborators Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jerome Robbins to Broadway, remains an exuberant, if often silly show with a bittersweet subtext. It tells the story of three sailors on leave for 24-hours just before they're to be shipped off to the South Pacific with the real possibility of never returning, making it necessary for them to slam as much in on their brief stay in the city as possible.

Comden and Green, who wrote the book and lyrics, and Bernstein, who wrote the music, provide them with a farcical plot in which each sailor finds romance, if only for hours; to which Robbins added movement, including no less than four ballets, that helped make the show one of the most innovative of the 1940s.

At the Pops in a streamlined, narrated version that Comden and Green curated, it feels as if it just fell out of a time capsule - a fresh and funny slice of classic Broadway cannily retrofitted for a Pops concert. Conducted with care and obvious affection by Keith Lockhart, Bernstein's score offers some spectacular sonic moments for the orchestra, most notably in the ballet sequences that evoke both the swing of period big band and the grandeur of contemporary symphonic composers (think Prokofiev and Gershwin) filtered through his unique sensibility.

But what made this concert so much fun is the simple, evocative staging by director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall, who put a remarkable amount of movement on the stage, as well as shepherding her first-rate cast, largely recruited from Broadway, through the show's broadly played comedy. The show's ballets were neatly evoked, with one - the opening "Miss Turnstyles" ballet, being nearly completely staged with a sparkling performance by Georgina Pazcoguin as the winning contestant, Ivy Smith. It is the pursuit of Ivy by Gabey, one of the sailors, that drives the plot, which in this streamlined version cuts the silly chase sequences and some extraneous bits to its benefit.

Brandon Victor Dixon brought easy charm to Gabey, and sang two of Bernstein's loveliest songs - the bluesy ballad "Lonely Town" and the easy, dance-band tune "Lucky to be Me" - with a real period feel. (Those who saw Mr. Dixon in the recently highly lauded performance as Judas on the televised "Jesus Christ Superstar" will be amazed at his range.) Assisting him are his buddies, wise guy Ozzie (a cheeky Andy Carl) and the naïve Ozzie (the big-voiced Christian Dante White), who find romance, respectively, with the man-hungry Claire (Laura Osnes) and the uber-extroverted Hildy (Megan Lawrence). Osnes had great chemistry with Carl, especially in their comic duet "Carried Away;" and Lawrence breezed through her big number - the hilarious "I Can Cook Too" - with show-stopping confidence.

Rounding out the cast were Broadway stalwarts Marc Kudisch, full-voiced and very funny in the role of Claire's long-suffering boyfriend, and Andrea Martin in a variety of roles (including an inebriated vocal coach and a pair of distressed chanteuses) that only made the case for her being one of the most hilarious comediennes working today.

Projects such as this one stretch the limits of what the Boston Pops can do; that they did with such finesse, style, and abundance of talent is only hope that these Broadway presentations will be part of Pops programming in the future. It made for a remarkable concert event.

"On The Town" is performed on Friday, June 1 at Symphony Hall, 401 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA. And on July 7 at Tanglewood in the Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA. For further information about these concerts, visit the Boston Symphony Orchestra website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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